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Chemistry not enough in NYC’s 31-14 loss to Island

HEMPSTEAD, L.I. – Najee Tyler was keeping things in perspective. His New York City team just fell to Long Island, 31-14, in the 14th annual Outback Steakhouse Empire Challenge in a lackluster performance Tuesday night in front of 8,224 at Hofstra University’s Shuart Stadium.

Sure the NYC defense gave up a few big plays, the team’s receivers had a case of the dropsies and its offense never really got into a rhythm. But, Tyler said, that isn’t necessarily the important thing.

“It was frustrating, but [my teammates] are all-stars just like me,” Xaverian’s Purdue-bound quarterback said. “I just have to relax. I can’t get down on them. It’s an all-star game.”

Long Island scored three times before New York City scored once and LI was ahead, 16-0, at halftime. Hempstead’s Terrell Williams scored on an 87-yard run on Long Island’s first drive with 6:42 left in the first quarter and it immediately took the wind out of the City players.

“The long run was really surprising,” NYC defensive tackle Caraun Reid of Mount St. Michael. “I didn’t expect it. I barely saw the guy.”

New York City got down to the LI 13-yard line on its first drive behind some nifty plays by Port Richmond quarterback Jeremy Ramos. But its next three possessions were anemic: two punts, two Naykwan Johnson fumbles deep in the Long Island end and one first down total.

“We shot ourselves in the foot too many times and started panicking,” Xavier running back Seamus Kelly said. “It’s not the start we wanted. I think we could have played a lot better game.”

Long Island, which was led by game MVP Miguel Maysonet, who had 17 carries for 120 yards, finished off the half with a Nick Ferrara 35-yard field goal with two seconds left. Dillon Boos hit Stephen Murphy for a 2-yard touchdown pass with 6:24 left in the third quarter to give LI a 24-0 lead.

New York City needed some life and got it from St. Francis Prep running back Tristan Akong. The Albany-bound track star ran it in from midfield for a 50-yard touchdown. Ramos converted the 2-point conversion to cut the lead to 24-8 with 4:38 left in the third. Akong finished with 97 yards on nine carries, caught a Tyler pass for 27 yards and had a 26-yard kickoff return.

“During practice, I kept hitting the hole too quick,” Akong said. “[Running backs] coach [Tom Pugh] kept yelling at me to slow down. I saw it develop, patience, linemen blocked great on that play. I just wanted to make a play to at least make a difference on the scoreboard.”

And NYC was right back in the game when Tyler scored on a quarterback keeper with 12:31remaining in the game. The Xaverian star was stymied on a 2-point attempt, but the city was within 24-14.

“The whole team rallied up,” Ramos said.

But it wouldn’t be enough. The defense held strong for most of the second half and St. Joseph by the Sea’s Teddy Clohessy had a big interception, but New York City wouldn’t score again. NYC’s two-game winning streak was snapped and Long Island now leads the series, 7-5, since the game went to its current format in 1998.

For all the players, it was a great experience, maybe even a once-in-a-lifetime one. The word bandied about all week in practice was “chemistry.” Holy Cross’ Pugh called it the best camaraderie he had seen in 11 years.

“I’ll remember the brotherhood, the practices,” St. Francis Prep defensive lineman Freddy Dugard said. “Everybody is funny. Everyone has their own unique personality. I made so many friends. I remember the first day we were like all scared looking at each other like, ‘Who is this guy? Is he tough?’ But everyone was loose with each other. Everybody was cool.”

Port Richmond coach Lou Vesce, who had coached the offensive line at the Empire Challenge the previous two seasons, got his first shot as the head guy and said he really enjoyed the experience. But Vesce, who guided the Red Raiders to their first PSAL city championship in the fall, didn’t much like the loss.

“They can’t take the ring away,” he joked.

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